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The Color Purple is an acclaimed 1982 epistolary novel by Americanmarker author Alice Walker. It received the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award. It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name.

Taking place mostly in rural Georgiamarker, the story focuses on female black life during the 1930s in the Southern United States, addressing the numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-1999 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence.

Plot summary

The story is told in the form of diary entries and letters. Celie is a poor and uneducated young black woman in 1930s Georgia who, aged only fourteen, is raped and impregnated twice by a man she calls Pa. Her children both disappear; Celie assumes her father has murdered them, until she meets a small girl in town to whom she bears a strong resemblance. Celie is forced into a marriage against her will, to Mr. Johnson, a man who originally approaches her father to ask permission to marry her younger sister, Nettie. Shortly after moving into her new home, she is joined by Nettie, who is also seeking to escape the unpleasant conditions at home. After Celie's husband tries to seduce her and fails he forces Nettie to leave and, following Celie's advice, she goes to the home of a local pastor, promising to write to Celie. As time passes, no letters arrive and so Celie assumes that Nettie is dead.

In her writings, Celie deferentially refers to her husband as "Mr.__", and it is far into the tale before we find out his first name is Albert. One of his sons, Harpo, falls in love with and marries a strong-willed and physically imposing woman named Sofia. Though both Harpo and "Mr." attempt to treat her as an inferior, Sofia fights back. Celie initially encourages this bullying behaviour, as being second to a man is the only way she has ever known to live, but when confronted by Sofia she realises her error. Celie is both envious of and intimidated by Sofia's strong spirit and florid defiance of her husband's absolute authority.

"Mr." has a long-term mistress, a singer named Shug Avery. She comes to live with the family due to poor health. Like "Mr.", Shug at first has little respect for Celie and the life she lives. She copies her lover, abusing Celie and adding to her humiliation. Celie feels intrigued and excited by this effervescent, liberated version of femininity. Through her relationship with Shug, Celie realizes that she is worthy of being loved and respected. When Shug discovers that "Mr." beats Celie, she decides to remain in the house for a short time in order to protect her.

After a few years of constant fighting, Sofia leaves Harpo, taking their children with her. At the same time, Celie and Shug become intimate and a strong bond grows between them. Shug helps Celie discover her sexuality as a woman. When Sofia returns to town for a visit, she becomes involved in a fight with Harpo's new girlfriend, Mary Agnes, who is nicknamed "Squeak" because of her high-pitched voice.

One day, the mayor’s wife, Miss Millie, asks Sofia to work as her maid. When Sofia declines with the words, "Hell, no," the mayor slaps her, not reckoning with her fiery temper. She returns the blow, knocking the mayor down, and is arrested for hitting a white man. Sofia is severely beaten in jail and is later sentenced twelve years in prison. The separation from her family and the loss of her freedom breaks her spirit. After some intervention from Squeak, who is raped by a white prison warden to whom she is related for her trouble, Sofia's sentence is altered and she serves as the mayor's wife's maid for the remainder of her time.

Having left on a singing tour, Shug returns, married to a man named Grady. Celie is initially hurt by this relationship, as she feels betrayed, but grows to accept it. Other than Nettie, Shug is the only person who has ever truly loved Celie.

One night, when Shug asks Celie about Nettie, Celie says that she believes her sister to be dead, since she had promised to write but Celie had never received any letters. Shug informs Celie that she has seen "Mr." hide numerous mysterious letters in a trunk and suggests that they investigate. When they do so, they find dozens of letters written by Nettie to Celie over the years. These tell of Nettie's travels to Africa with a missionary couple, Samuel and Corrine, and their adopted children, Olivia and Adam. When Corrine becomes ill, Samuel tells Nettie how they came to adopt their children and that his wife has suspected that Nettie was their biological mother due to their close resemblance. It transpires that Olivia and Adam are Celie's long-lost children, and that she is their aunt. She also learns that Alphonso was not her and Celie's father but rather their stepfather. Their biological father, a store-owner, had been lynched by a mob of white men because they believed he was too successful. After Corrine's acceptance of Nettie's story, she dies, and Samuel and Nettie discover that they are deeply in love; they eventually marry.

Having read the letters and learned the truth about her children as well as her biological father, Celie visits Alphonso to confirm the story, which he does. Celie finds a new sense of empowerment, and at dinner one night she releases her pent-up anger at "Mr.", cursing him for the years of abuse that she has had to endure. Shug, Celie, and Squeak decide to move to Tennesseemarker, where Celie begins a lucrative business designing and sewing tailored pants together. She returns to Georgia for a visit and finds that not only has "Mr." reformed himself and his ways, but Alphonso has died. She finds out that the shop, house and land she thought was his had been willed to her and Nettie when their mother died. Celie decides to move back, relocating her business. Soon after, Shug falls for nineteen-year-old Germaine and travels with him across the country in a last hurrah for her youth.

Meanwhile, Nettie and Samuel are preparing for their return to America. Adam falls in love with and marries an African girl named Tashi, who undergoes the painful rituals of female genital cutting and facial scarification. Adam also goes through the facial scarring ritual in solidarity. Nettie writes to Celie to let her know that the family is on their way.

Celie is now an independent woman. Celie and "Mr." eventually reconcile, but remain friends rather than lovers. He helps her with her business, sewing with her as they sit on the porch. Sofia and Harpo reconcile, and Sofia also works for Celie at her pants-making shop. Shug returns, satisfied with her last fling and ready to settle down. Nettie and Samuel return with the children, and Celie and her sister are happily reunited.



A dominant theme is the power of women coming together. The women see men as careless and insignificant to their lives. Women in the novel are degraded by men and generally used for male pleasure. The female relationships are friendly and sisterly and also sexual. Celie and Sofia have a friendly relationship with each other because Celie was Sofia’s stepmother in law, and they befriended each other because the men in their life treated them poorly. Shug Avery had a large number of shallow relationships in her life previous to Celie, and Celie had always been in relationships that were the product of real or implied threats of violence. As such, she had never fallen in love. After pursuing a relationship with one another they found happiness in life. What makes the woman-woman relationship attractive is the stark contrast afforded by all of Celie's heterosexual contacts. It is really the first time that she has experienced love and sharing and appreciation in any way related to her sexual life. Celie and Nettie provide the sisterly relationship in the novel. Nettie is Celie’s hope and faith for life. They constantly push each other throughout the book to stay true to God, and they believe that they will meet again one day.


There is no getting away from the fact that 1930s Georgia must have been a difficult place to live as a black person, due to widely-held prejudices amongst the white population. Slavery was not yet a distant memory. Due to their mistreatment at the hands of white people, the characters believe that their children are doomed to grow up in a racist society, with no hope for improvement. Furthermore, Sofia is convinced that due to the influence of society's prejudice her children will become cynical of everyone around them. The black characters have difficulty accepting this condition, yet they see no hope of change in the future.


The majority of the men and women involved in the story are of the opinion that men should dominate women. Harpo feels threatened by his strong-willed, defiant wife, Sofia, and tries to become physically stronger than her so that he can beat her and return things to what he sees as their natural order. Throughout the book, women are degraded by men and treated as second-class citizens. This self-imposed inequality ironically mirrors the inequality between the races, which they all find so hard to accept...



At the start of the novel, Celie views God as completely separate from her world. She writes to God because she has no other way to express her feelings. Celie's writing to God thrusts her into a rich symbolic life which results in her repudiation of the life she has been assigned and a desire for a more expansive daily existence. Her faith is strong, but it’s dependent on only what other people have revealed to her about God. Later she tells Shug that she sees God as white man. She has this belief because everyone she knows has said God is white and a male. Later, Shug tells her God has no race or gender. This enables Celie to see God in a different way. She realizes that you cannot place qualities on God because he is a part of the unknown. Her faith is now based on her interpretation of God, not one she learned from someone else. Even though Shug helped her with this realization, Celie only used this knowledge to shape her faith. Shug was a huge influence on Celie’s faith, but Celie was the one that had to choose how she would express it.

The Color Purple

The title of the book is a very important symbol. Celie goes through life having a hard time noticing the beautiful aspects and appreciating them. She had a difficult life and was abused as an adolescent. The color purple is continually equated with suffering and pain. Sofia's swollen, beaten face is described as the color of "eggplant". Purple is the color of Celie's private parts: the site of her sexual violation. However, later Shug points out to her that you have to enjoy life. When they were in a field of purple flowers, Shug tells Celie to look at the flowers and embrace their beauty. You must look at all the good and acknowledge them because God placed them all on earth. After learning this, Celie has a better respect for life and everything it has to offer.


The letters that Celie writes to Sofia, and later to her sister Nettie, symbolize a certain voice that only Celie has. She is able to express her true desires only in her letters. These letters allow her to display any emotion and they are very personal to her as well. In the beginning, when she was writing letters only to God, the letters were very private and Celie would not have wanted anyone to see them. They are the only way she can represent her true feelings and let out her anger and despair as she is abused. Later, the letters she gets from Nettie give her hope that she will be reunited with her sister again.

Celie writes to God for the lack of someone else to write to. She writes to her sister because she gets mad at God because of her past and the people who have been hurting because of it. She asks God the question, "Why?" This question cannot be answered. The last letter she writes, is to everyone, including God. This is to show that she has forgiven him, and that the story has gone through a full circle of maturation.


Celie begins to make pants after she takes her freedom from "Mr." After going away with Shug, she is finally able to reach industrialized society and make pants instead of working in the outdoors all day. Celie is able to have a job and live the life many women longed for in this time period, especially African American women. The pants represent liberation from the common view of women as just homemakers. Celie could make a business selling the pants. Also, in this point in history women were supposed to wear dresses while men "wore the pants"; however, Celie made pants for women too, so they were able to be equal to men in this regard.

Character Analysis

Shug Avery

Shug is a very extroverted character. She is Albert's ex-girlfriend, the one who always got away. When she comes back to visit Albert, she shakes up not only his feelings, but also those of Celie. Celie harbors an admiration for Shug and the life that she has lived. Shug enters and exits Celie's life, normally making it for the better. She influences Albert to the point that he ends up treating Celie better than he ever had. Eventually, Shug herself develops a physical relationship with Celie. By showing Celie the wonders of life and her body, she helps Celie develop herself emotionally and spiritually. Shug also helps Celie discover the long lost letters that her sister Nettie had written to her. In allowing Celie to view these letters, Shug is supplying her with even more hope and inspiration, letting Celie see that in the end, everything works out for the best.


Celie is the main character, who has been oppressed by men her whole life. As an adolescent she is raped by her stepfather and soon thereafter gives birth. Her children are taken away. Her stepfather gives her away to be married to Albert. She becomes friends with Shug, which leads to a sexual relationship between the two. Celie learns many things about herself and her body due to Shug. She models herself after Shug and becomes more independent the more she listens to Shug's views and opinions. Shug influences not only the way that Celie allows Albert to treat her, but also her religious views. In showing Celie that it is alright to commit sin but still believe in and live for God, she broadens Celie's view on religion. It is also Shug who frees Celie from Albert's bondage, first by loving her, then by helping her to start a custom sewing business. From Shug, Celie learns that Albert has been hiding letters written to her from Africa by her sister Nettie, a missionary. These letters, full of educated, firsthand observation of African life, form a moving counterpoint to Celie's life. They reveal that in Africa, just as in America, women are persistently oppressed by men.


Nettie is Celie's sister, whom Celie saves from living the tragic life that she had to endure. Nettie is better looking than Celie, who has been dubbed ugly. "Mr. Johnson" is originally interested in Nettie as a wife, but settles for Celie. When Nettie finds life at home unbearable, she runs away to stay with Celie. When "Mr." says Nettie must leave, Celie suggests that she seek out the family who took in Celie's two children. When Nettie finds them, they take her in and bring her to Africa with them as a missionary. In Africa, she writes Celie a series of letters which depict the life that she is living. Nettie finds that while there isn't a racial disparity there, a gender disparity exists. The women of the tribe aren't treated as equals, and aren't permitted to attend school. When Corrine, the mother, dies, Nettie fills her role and marries her husband. In the end, Nettie travels back to America, and brings Celie's children with her. By telling Celie the things she has seen and done, she helps Celie become more enthusiastic about how the world can change.

Albert Johnson

Albert is the man to whom Celie is married. Albert was married previously, but his wife was murdered by a lover. Originally, he seeks a relationship with Nettie, but settles for Celie. Albert mistreats Celie just as her father had, and she allows it. Albert uses Celie to help raise his children, who give her a hard time for not being their real mother.When Albert's ex-girlfriend Shug Avery comes to town, he fawns all over her as he normally does. Shug begins to take an interest in Celie, and causes Albert to start treating her better.


Sofia is one of the strong personalities in the story. She marries Albert's son Harpo. Harpo tries to dominate and beat her as he's seen his father treat women, but she fights back (giving him a bruise on one occasion). One day she runs into the mayor and Miss Millie, the mayor's wife. Miss Millie finds Sofia's children very "clean" and asks Sofia to be her maid. Sofia would never dream of it, and tells Miss Millie this. The white mayor, offended by this, slaps her. Sofia hits back and for this she is beaten by a mob of whites and sent to jail for 8 years, which almost breaks her spirit.

Miss Millie

Miss Millie is the woman by whom Sofia is forced into slavery as punishment for hitting the mayor. She considers herself very liberal, tolerant and humanitarian, because she does things like organize fundraisers for black children, but she reveals her own behavior to be somewhat deceptive and phony. When she first met Sofia she assumed she was unemployed and couldn't foresee why she as a white woman asking Sofia to be her maid would be offensive to her. Later as she is trying to drive herself back home after dropping Sofia off for her first holiday visit with her family in years she has problems getting the car to cooperate because of her lack of experience and talent with driving. As Sofia's family members, most of them men, try to help her get started (and lessen the likelihood of her crashing into the house or hurting herself) her instincts take over and she begins panicking and shouting in her presumption that all a bunch of black men would be trying to do to her as a white woman is "attack" her. She then goes on to state plainly that she won't allow any black person, especially a black man, she doesn't know to drive her home alone, even if it is one of Sofia's family members and insists that Sofia be the one to do it, possibly because she doesn't think Sofia capable of harming her because of her broken spirit and previous experience with the wrath of the mayor and sheriff. In spite of her best efforts to be progressive she is still a bigot and is actually a hypocrite.

Film, theatrical, and radio adaptations

The novel was adapted into a film of the same name in 1985. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, Danny Glover as Albert, and Oprah Winfrey as Sofia. Though nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it did not win any. This perceived snubbing ignited some controversy because many critics considered it the best picture that year, including Roger Ebert. Others were upset by the film's depiction of the black male as abusive, uncaring, and disloyal. Other critics felt that Steven Spielberg was a poor choice for such a complex drama and that the film had changed or eliminated much of the book's defense of lesbianism.

On December 1, 2005, a musical adaptation of the novel (via the film) opened at the Broadway Theatermarker in New York Citymarker. The show was produced by Scott Sanders, Quincy Jones, Harvey Weinstein, and Oprah Winfrey, who was also an investor.It garnered five 2006 Outer Critics Circle Award nominations, including Outstanding Broadway Musical and Outstanding New Score. That same year, the show was nominated for eleven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score Written for the Theater, and Best Leading Actress in a Musical (LaChanze). LaChanze did win the Tony Award, though the show itself won no other awards. LaChanze's win was attributed to the variety of roles for which she had garnered positive attention, as well as for a powerful backstory. In April 2007, Fantasia Barrino took over the role. The Broadway production ended its run on February 24, 2008.

In 2008 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a radio adaptation of the novel in ten 15-minute episodes as a Woman's Hour serial, with Nadine Marshall as Celie. The script was by Patricia Cumper, and in 2009 the production received the Sony Radio Academy Awards Silver Drama Award .


  • ISBN 0-606-00587-0 (prebound, 1985)
  • ISBN 0-671-61702-8 (mass market paperback, 1985)
  • ISBN 0-671-64745-8 (mass market paperback, 1987)
  • ISBN 0-671-66878-1 (paperback, 1988)
  • ISBN 0-15-119154-9 (hardcover, 1992, Anniversary Edition)
  • ISBN 1-56849-628-1 (library binding, 1995, reprint)
  • ISBN 0-671-01907-4 (paperback, 1998)
  • ISBN 0-7641-2064-6 (paperback, 2002)
  • ISBN 0-15-602835-2 (paperback, 2003)
  • ISBN 0-671-72779-6
  • ISBN 0-7043-3905-6
  • ISBN 978-0-7538-1892-3 (paperback, United Kingdom, 2004)

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